President Bush's summit in Vienna with leaders of the European Union covered a broad range of topics - from trade to terrorism; from poverty to intellectual property; from the Mid East through the Balkans to the Far East with energy and global warming in between. At a news conference following the talks, the United States itself became a topic, as Mr. Bush was asked why Europeans perceive America to be the greatest threat to global stability.
President Bush responded to the question by a Financial Times newspaper reporter by saying that such a statement was, as he put it, "absurd." Nonetheless, an Austrian Radio and TV correspondent cited very low public opinion numbers, which indicate substantial majorities on the continent believe Mr. Bush's foreign policy is helping to destabilize the world.
Raimund Loew, of Austrian Radio and TV, asked the president this question. "So my question to you is, why do you think you have failed so badly to convince Europeans to win their hearts and minds?"
Bush response. “Look, people didn't agree with my decision on Iraq. And I understand that. For Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us it was a change of thinking. I vowed to the American people I would do everything I could to defend our people, and will."
The summit host, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, noted that terrorists have killed hundreds of Europeans since September 11th, 2001. The Austrian leader also called upon Europeans to understand the shock that this date represents not only to the American people, but also to American, European and international values.
At the same time, Schuessel warned about the need to maintain those values.
"We can only have a victory in the fight against terror if we don't undermine our common values. It can never be a victory -- a credible victory over terrorists -- if we give up our values: democracy, rule of law, individual rights."
European perceptions that the United States is eroding those principles have been fueled by allegations of secret CIA prisons and overflights in Europe, as well as charges of unfair treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. prison in Cuba.
Mr. Bush said he would like to close the facility. "One of the things we will do is we will send people back to their home countries. We've got about 400 people there left: 200 have been sent back. There are some who need to be tried in U.S. courts. They're cold-blooded killers. They will murder somebody if they're let out on the street. And yet we believe there ought to be a way forward in the court of law. And I'm waiting for the Supreme Court of the United States to determine the proper venue in which these people can be tried."
President Bush said he would continue to act on his belief in the universality of freedom. He promised to stay tough on terrorism. He also said he will continue to show compassion to African victims of HIV/AIDS, hunger, and genocide in Darfur. The Austrian chancellor underscored Mr. Bush's message, noting that his country and Europe would not be the peaceful and prosperous places they are today had America not helped lift its former enemies from the ruins of World War II.